Placopecten’s New Rules Stir Up Economic Storm for Fishermen

by Susan Cornell

Joey Bomster stands next to his boat Patty Jo, built in 1988

Joey Bomster stands next to his boat Patty Jo, built in 1988

After filling up the gas tank and picking up a pound of fresh Placopecten magellanicus, or New England sea scallops, for dinner, a little light went off in my head—oh no, the kid’s college tuition for next semester is on the to-do list. Wow, it’s hard to believe that what I shelled out for fuel and food can lead to that connection!
The cost becomes clear when you talk to the local fishermen in the supply line, though.
Joe Bomster of Stonington’s Bomster Scallops admits, “It’s getting to the point where they’re cutting us back so much that the price is going to go so high that we’re afraid people are going to stop buying scallops.”
Bomster and his two brothers have been fishing all of their adult lives. Their father was a fisherman and their grandfather was a fisherman. “Nobody in our family has ever done anything else, so when you put us out of fishing, you really put us out.”
Joe believes that if he was allowed to fish 100 days a year, the price of scallops would be about half of what it is currently, or $7 to $8 a pound.
They had their boat, the Patty Jo, built in 1988. For the first few years he and his brother fished aboard her 255 days a year.
“There was no regulation on how long you could fish. We made money to pay our mortgages,” he said, adding, “Now we have two boats the same size; each boat fishes about 70 days a year. So with two boats we can only fish 140 days.”
“It has nothing to do with the fishermen; it has everything to do with regulations and the amount of pounds we can catch. Like everything else, if you have a shortage of it, the price goes up…like gas and everything else,” he explains.
In addition to existing regulations, new regulations went into effect March 1 and more have been proposed.
Bomster says, “The message that has to be sent to politicians now is that we need less of everything. My business is commercial fishing but this is the same with all businesses. It’s an overregulating, overbearing government. We don’t need more regulation—we need more areas to fish.”
Some areas have been closed for 12 years, which does not make sense because a scallop only lives to be about 6 years old. “So, you have many generations that lived the full term of life and died. That’s like telling a farmer to grow their corn and then just let it die and let the bugs eat it. What good would that do? That’s basically what they’re doing to our fishery,” he says.
The good news, the academics tell us, is that the scallops are there. “UMass Dartmouth estimates that hundreds of millions of pounds of scallops are just dying out there without being harvested,” Joe explains.
Regulations also mean fewer jobs in the fishing industry. Bomster sums it up: “Wasn’t this country founded on freedom? Enough is enough.“